50th anniversary of the Vietnam War commemorated at K-State

Fort Riley soldiers present the colors before the Texas Tech football game on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2014. (Emily DeShazer | The Collegian)

Kansas State University was one institution out of approximately 34 universities and 6,545 total organizations nationwide chosen by the United States Department of Defense to help serve as a national commemorative partner for the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, according to retired Col. Mark Franklin, chief of history and education of the Vietnam War commemoration.

The selection was announced at the football game between K-State and Texas Tech on Oct. 4, which was also Fort Riley Day at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Army Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, Fort Riley commanding general, represented the department by participating in an on-field presentation at halftime along with the Fort Riley 1st Infantry Division band.

“Kansas State University is honored to serve in this capacity to commemorate the anniversary of the Vietnam War,” said Kirk Schulz, K-State president, in a recent K-State press release. “We will use our 150-year military tradition, as well as a decade of recent experience, serving our nation’s military to promote awareness, inform the current generation and honor those whose lives were affected most by this conflict.”

According to retired Army Lt. Col. Arthur DeGroat, university executive director of military and veterans affairs, there was an invitation process conducted by the office of the secretary of defense that selected institutions to participate. Along with K-State and Fort Riley, there are many universities and ROTC programs that were selected to participate as well.

“I believe Kansas State University was selected due to our long-standing national reputation as a military-inclusive institution,” DeGroat said. “As well as by the reputations of our many distinguished military alumni, past and present.”

DeGroat will serve as the lead administrator of the program, but Kirk Schulz, university president, and DeGroat have appointed retired Army Lt. Col. Mike McDermott, of Manhattan to serve as the chairman of the university’s task force to plan, coordinate and host the events. His job will be to make sure that the five congressionally mandated objectives and standards of the program will all be met.

“It’s a great privilege for me to be given this opportunity to participate in K-State’s commemorative partnership with the Department of Defense and the Vietnam veteran’s community,” McDermott said. “I look forward to putting together a program that recognizes the full range of the Vietnam War’s legacy.”

McDermott said that these goals include organizing events that highlight the service during the period, thanking and honoring the veterans, and recognizing the contributions of their families and others on the home front.

There is also an extensive application process that can be filled out online for both civilian organizations and military installations that express interest in becoming involved in the program. Civilian applications are then evaluated for eligibility, while military “participation in eligible events is subject to the availability of requested assets and funds. Such involvement must not result in any additional expenses or costs for the U.S. Government which have not been previously budgeted and funded,” as stated on the commemoration program’s website.

The programs to honor the sacrifices made by those who served during the war will be created by Fort Riley and K-State. There are 1,010 total events that will span from 2015 through 2017, reminding the country of the war, which was fought by American combat troops between 1965 and 1973.

Steve Elstrom, Fort Riley public affairs specialist, said the program is designed to allow federal, state and local communities to get involved and thank and pay tribute to the veterans that served in the war, as well as highlight the advances in technology, science and medicine. The state of Kansas will hold 10 of these events in the coming years, and has a total of 31 partners participating.

“This selection is both an honor and responsibility to serve a role in commemorating the many impacts of this period of our Nation’s history,” DeGroat said.

The commemorative partner list includes not only K-State, the university’s ROTC program, and Fort Riley’s 1st Infantry Division as representatives of the state of Kansas, but also the Kansas National Guard, the Kansas Commission on Veteran’s Affairs, the Kansas State council of Vietnam Veterans of America and the Kansas Society Daughters of the American Revolution.